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Trial Set in Texas|Death of Sandra Bland

HOUSTON (CN) - A federal judge Thursday set trial for a lawsuit from the mother of Sandra Bland, the young black woman who became larger than life when she died in a Texas jail cell last summer after a traffic stop.

U.S. District Judge David Hittner set the trial for Jan. 23, 2017 at the status conference.

Waller County Jail officers found Bland dead in her cell on July 13. Officials said Bland, 28, had hanged herself with a plastic bag.

Bland's family and friends challenged the story, saying she had no history of self-destruction, self-abuse or depression, and was excited about her new job at Prairie View A&M University, her alma mater. The school is in Waller County. Bland died in the jail in Hempstead, the county seat, an hour northwest of Houston.

Her death came three days after Texas State Trooper Brian Encinia arrested her during a traffic stop. He claimed she had tried to kick him.

Their encounter got physical after he asked her to put out her cigarette.

Dashcam footage from Encinia's cruiser recorded Bland asking: "Why do I have to put out a cigarette when I'm in my own car?"

Encinia repeatedly ordered her to get out of the car, and she refused. He finally tried to pull her out, and threatened to "light (her) up" with his Taser.

The footage went viral after Bland died, stoking outrage among African-Americans already galvanized by yearlong protests of police abuse and killings of black men. In death, Bland became a face of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Bland's mother, Geneva Reed-Veal, sued the Texas Department of Public Safety, Encinia, Waller County and two of its jailers on Aug. 4.

The 18-count lawsuit seeks punitive damages for wrongful death, willful and wanton conduct, assault and battery and civil rights violations.

A grand jury is investigating whether anyone should be criminally charged for Bland's death.

At Thursday's hearing, Reed-Veal's attorneys said they want access to evidence being presented to the grand jury.

Dozens of Reed-Veal's supporters and family members were in Hittner's courtroom for the hearing, and they crowded the sidewalk in front of the courthouse afterward for a news conference held by Reed-Veal's attorneys.

She is represented by Cannon Lambert with Karchmer Lambert in Chicago and Thomas Rhodes from San Antonio.

Bland had moved to Texas from Chicago just before she was arrested.

Encinia and the Texas Department of Public Safety claim in court filings that they should be dropped as defendants because law enforcement officers typically are immune from such lawsuits, unless plaintiffs can prove they violated a clearly established law.

Hittner has yet to rule on their motions.

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